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Changing numbers of spawning cutthroat trout in tributary streams of Yellowstone Lake and estimates of grizzly bears visiting streams from DNA

January 1, 2005

Spawning Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki) provide a source of highly digestible energy for grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) that visit tributary streams to Yellowstone Lake during the spring and early summer. During 1985–87, research documented grizzly bears fishing on 61% of the 124 tributary streams to the lake. Using track measurements, it was estimated that a minimum of 44 grizzly bears fished those streams annually. During 1994, non-native lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) were discovered in Yellowstone Lake. Lake trout are efficient predators and have the potential to reduce the native cutthroat population and negatively impact terrestrial predators that use cutthroat trout as a food resource. In 1997, we began sampling a subset of streams (n = 25) from areas of Yellowstone Lake surveyed during the previous study to determine if changes in spawner numbers or bear use had occurred. Comparisons of peak numbers and duration suggested a considerable decline between study periods in streams in the West Thumb area of the lake. The apparent decline may be due to predation by lake trout. Indices of bear use also declined on West Thumb area streams. We used DNA from hair collected near spawning streams to estimate the minimum number of bears visiting the vicinity of spawning streams. Seventy-four individual bears were identified from 429 hair samples. The annual number of individuals detected ranged from 15 in 1997 to 33 in 2000. Seventy percent of genotypes identified were represented by more than 1 sample, but only 31% of bears were documented more than 1 year of the study. Sixty-two (84%) bears were only documented in 1 segment of the lake, whereas 12 (16%) were found in 2–3 lake segments. Twenty-seven bears were identified from hair collected at multiple streams. One bear was identified on 6 streams in 2 segments of the lake and during 3 years of the study. We used encounter histories derived from DNA and the Jolly-Seber procedure in Program MARK to produce annual estimates of grizzly bears visiting streams. Approximately 68 grizzly bears visited the vicinity of cutthroat trout spawning streams annually. Thus, approximately 14–21% of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) may have used this threatened food resource annually. Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is attempting to control the lake trout population in Yellowstone Lake; our results underscore the importance of that effort to grizzly bears.

Publication Year 2005
Title Changing numbers of spawning cutthroat trout in tributary streams of Yellowstone Lake and estimates of grizzly bears visiting streams from DNA
DOI 10.2192/1537-6176(2005)016[0167:CNOSCT]2.0.CO;2
Authors M.A. Haroldson, K.A. Gunther, Daniel P. Reinhart, S.R. Podruzny, C. Cegelski, L. Waits, T.C. Wyman, J. Smith
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ursus
Index ID 1008612
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center